Top of the Lake: China Girl

Interview with Ewan Leslie

Tell us about your role.

I play Pyke who is married to Julia, played by Nicole Kidman. We are the adoptive parents of Mary, played by Alice Englert, who is Robin’s daughter. When we meet Pyke at the beginning of the story he's very much in a bit of a funk in his life. He's a bit lost. His wife has fallen in love with another woman and they're in the middle of getting a divorce. And he's at a point in his life where he's a bit unsure which direction to take and he's become a bit inactive. Throughout the course of the story he has certain fires that are reignited and has to stand up and ask, “Where am I going with this?” He has an incredibly close relationship with his daughter Mary, which is tested when she starts seeing Puss, who in Pyke’s eyes is pretty bad news. So together with Robin he sets about trying to break up their relationship. Or at least save his daughter.

What drew you to this role and to Top of the Lake: China Girl?

I loved Top of the Lake and I love Jane Campion. I'm a really big fan, I love her films. I was really just happy that I got an audition, to be honest. I thought, “Well at the very least I've got Jane’s attention for 15 minutes or however long I can stretch this audition out.” So I went in and did the audition and it was great to meet her. It went well and then a month later I got the call saying that I, I'd got the job. Which was a really great day. But I'd actually only read the first episode when I auditioned, and I loved it, but I instantly found it very different to the first season. There were big long dialogue scenes that you don't normally get in TV; it was like reading a play I suppose. Then as I was given the other scripts and I read through, I genuinely found them surprising and really exciting. There's a wonderful sense of character revealing. You really think you've got characters summed up in episode two and then as it goes along you kind of get bits of information that you kind of go “Right, I didn't expect you to say that” or “I didn't expect you to do that”.

I've had a great time. I've found myself on set getting direction by Jane, in scenes with Elisabeth and Nicole and Alice and an amazing group of actors that I'm very, very thrilled to be working with.

What were some of the challenges for you during the filming?

The father-daughter dance was definitely a big day and a big set piece. I didn't know until we actually started rolling on action that the director Ariel Kleiman had choreographed this sort of “Gangnam Style” dance with the fathers and daughters. That was quite hilarious. There have been other days; some of it's really emotional. I think what Jane and Gerard Lee were interested in was setting up this guy who was very calm, collected, and putting him through his paces, putting him in situations where he was going to be forced to lose control a bit. I feel a great responsibility playing Pyke, but I think everyone feels that with their characters and I think everyone is aware that they have a very specific sort of thing that they have to hold up amongst the ensemble.

How was it working with each of the directors?

Jane is very supportive and challenging, she really pushes you. But also really trusts you, which is an amazing thing. I feel very empowered working with her, and I've learnt a lot working with her. It's rare that you can walk away from an experience with a director that you go “Right, I've learnt a lot about what I do working with you that I'm now going to take on and take into jobs from here on out, and other roles.”

I'd seen Ariel’s Partisan, which I really, really enjoyed. So I was really keen to work with him. And he's been fantastic. It's a huge job for him. He’s taken it all in his stride and I think has done a really wonderful job. He has such a playful energy and brings a really playful vibe to set that everyone feels. Jane does a lot of improvisation, and a lot of the time the line between just talking about the scenes and talking about the character and improv gets blended. You'll be just talking about a scene and all of a sudden find yourself in the midst of an improvisation about it. We did a lot of father-daughter improvs together and building up that relationship. She encourages play and she encourages you to be bold and step out of your comfort zones. With these scripts and with Jane I feel a great responsibility; I want to do a good job.

By BBC Australia